They say there are only two things in life you can count on: death and taxes. I would add a third: changes. Every person goes through changes in life. And some of those changes can be significant.
Whether you are graduating, starting a new job, moving to a new city, or ending a relationship, you may find dealing with change to be stressful. But there is good news. Counselling can absolutely help you navigate these big life changes so you can make the absolute best decision for you.
Here are some ways counseling can help with big life changes:
There’s the change itself, and then there’s what we expect life to be during and after the change. Often we can feel stress when reality does not align with our expectations of reality. Counselling can help you manage your expectations so that the transition is peaceful and realistic.
A Positive Framework
Change means one door closes as another one opens. But many people put all of their focus and attention on that closing door. Focusing on an ending can make us feel depressed and anxious.
A counsellor can help you focus on the new opportunities ahead of you. This can improve your state of mind, which will ultimately help you make the most of the current situation.
For many of us, change means burning the candle at both ends and not taking care of ourselves. Counselling can remind us that we need to make our physical and mental health a priority during this transition.
Now that you see some of the ways counselling can help you through the biggest changes in your life, you might feel that it would be helpful to find a therapist who can help you find insight and fresh perspective. If you’d like to explore counselling further, please consider reaching out to me. I specialize in helping women navigate changes and challenges in their lives effectively so that they can grown though these circumstances to be aligned with their values and what matters most to them.
Notice the way you talk to yourself when you are struggling to juggle “all the things”. Would you talk this way to a friend? Probably not.
Instead, try reminding yourself how tough it is to keep all these things on your plate. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Place a kind hand on your heart. Self-compassion can help you respond better in a crisis.
If you need some guidance, try listening to these self-compassion meditations as a way to build a self-compassion practice so you’ll have something to draw on next time a difficult moment hits.
2. Give up the Quest to do it Perfectly:
Being a busy mom means that you are not going to be able to keep the standards that you wish in all the different parts of your life. Part of lightening the load of motherhood is refusing to put unrealistic expectation on yourself.
What if the dishwasher isn’t loaded perfectly, kids clothes are jammed in drawers rather than being folded neatly or they don’t take xyz lessons this season?
Once you get used to the discomfort of “good enough”, it is quite freeing. It allows you to delegate; not just to your spouse but to your kids too. Not needing things to be done to such a high standard also helps your to set better boundaries about what you are and are not able to take on.
3. Automate and Delegate:
No doubt you’re busy as heck and feel like you are being pulled in five different directions at any given moment; planning dinner, supervising homework, driving to sports, running the bedtime routine, keeping up with cleaning and anything else that has found its way onto your plate. In the midst of this, it feels like an extra task just to ask for the help you need.
Don’t fall in the trap of just doing it yourself!
Finding ways for things to be repeatable and clearly communicated is super helpful for lightening the mental load of motherhood. Plan to do this ahead of time, not in the moment. Once everyone knows what to do, then completely turn that task over to them and take it off you plate.
I am sure you can find a million different ways to do this, but here are some things I love to help me organize, automate and delegate:
*Detailed cleaning routine from Clean Mama which is great for explaining what to do and when.
*A free app called COZI linked to the cleaning routine above. I set it up on my phone and on my older kids devices so it sends them reminders about when to do chores. I don’t have to ask again!
*Meal planing & shopping list app called Plan to Eat. It stores my recipes, makes meal plans and grocery lists.
*Free meal plans every two weeks from the Better Mom so I don’t have to think
4. Be Real With Your Close Mom Friends: Are you feeling overwhelmed? Struggling with mom rage? Being real with you close friend will help you feel less alone and validate what they are going thru too. You may even be able to find creative ways to work together or support each other.
5. Prioritize Self-Care: Self-care is a long-term strategy focused on preventing burnout. Often moms are so exhausted taking care of themselves seems to be the last thing on the list. Other times, they are just uncomfortable with prioritizing their needs and feel like a “bad mom” or guilty for leaving the “to do list” if they take time for themselves.
Look for small ways, like pouring a nice cup of tea, smelling your favourite lotion or sitting down for a few minutes to listen to music or read a book to tend to your needs. Intentionally set aside even 5-10 minutes every day to recharge and care for yourself.
The mental load of motherhood can be so exhausting and overwhelming. Especially at time of high emotion and transitions like we are in this week, as we prepare for back to school, our “mom brains” can feel especially stressed. Remember to respond to yourself with compassion when you can’t get it all done. Expect less of yourself. Proactively find some ways to delegate and automate the sharing of tasks. Cultivate a good group of mom friends to commiserate with and prioritize caring for yourself.
Sometimes motherhood can feel so overwhelming and stressful that self- help is not enough. Counselling can help you process your feelings and find more effective ways to cope. I specialize in working with moms who are feeling stressed, overwhelmed and anxious to help them learn new ways to thrive in their lives.
A few months ago, in the thick of pandemic isolation, articles about ‘mom rage’ began appearing in my Facebook feed and in my inbox.
Intrigued, I felt drawn to read what I could find about this term that I had never heard of.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly experience feeling angry as a mom, but I had never heard of the experience described in such a raw way.
In case you haven’t heard of it, ’Mom rage’ is the term to describe the intense anger many women experience during pregnancy, postpartum and beyond. It is a fitting description for venting of the daily emotional and logistical pressures moms face, that have a way of building up and building up until we lose it.
‘Mom rage’ does not sound at all like the kind of patient, fun mom you’ve envisioned being, which makes it especially hard to talk about without feeling guilt or shame. If you’ve struggled with anger as a mom, I want you to know that you are not alone.
What contibutes to ‘Mom Rage’?
‘Mom rage’ can be linked to social isolation, lack of support, managing high levels of stress as well as maternal depression and anxiety.
Being a mom, for many, can intensify our experience of anxiety. Am I getting this right? How do I keep my kids safe? Are they getting all that they need?
Grief can also contribute to feelings of anger. Becoming a mom, while it can be a wonderful experience, is also an experience of loss. As moms, we might grieve the loss of our independence, losing control over our own schedule, decreased social connection, lack of sleep, our pre-baby bodies, etc.
During this pandemic, this experience of loss has only been amplified; when you stop and consider all of the changes that we have had to adapt to over the past few months, grief is a normal emotional reaction to have.
Part 1 of this blog series, highlighted the importance of recognizing your triggers and addressing them pro-actively to help you cope more effectively with stress and being overwhelmed.
Here are some steps you can take to help you in the moment, to help you get a grip:
1.Stop “Should-ing” All Over Yourself:Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational-Emotive Behaviour Therapy coined the term “should-ing all over yourself” to describe our tendency to criticize and judge ourselves with shoulds. Guilt and anxiety are amplified the more ‘shoulding’ you do.
When you catch yourself mentally beating yourself up for all of the things you “should” have done, ask yourself “who says this is important or how it has to be done?”.
Often the things that we feel we “should” do come from external pressures and are not even what really matters to us. Perhaps it’s our mom who says it should be a certain way or our friends who are all enrolling their kids in some program or another.
If there are some “shoulds” that really matter to you, don’t feel that you need to carry the burden alone. Enlist help from a spouse, friend, family member, or older child to help share the load.
2. Put Down Your Phone: The madness of social media is that on one hand you use it to try and distract yourself from whatever unpleasant emotions you are feeling (boredom, anxiety, overwhelmed, etc.) while it simultaneously makes you feel worse when you see the highlights of everyone else’s day.
Even if you’re watching the latest Kristina Kuzmic YouTube Video while you’re trying to parent your kids, you’ll likely be interrupted on multiple occasions, and what sort of mindset will you be in then?
Being distracted by your phone makes it even more difficult to regulate your emotions or to help your kids deal with theirs. Try putting your phone out of sight, at least for part of the day, so you can be fully present.
3. Notice What is Happening in Your Body: Become more aware of what it feels like in your body before you become unhinged. Where do you feel the frustration, overwhelm, anger, sadness or helplessness in your body?
Take a deep breath, exhale slowly and focus on what your body is feeling.
You might notice how you shrug your shoulders up towards your neck, or tighten your jaw muscles when you are feeling overwhelmed. Maybe you notice how hot you feel when you feel angry.
Noticing and naming the tension you feel and the emotions that are coming up may not make the difficult situation it go away, but it puts you back in control and allows you to take a minute and think about how you’d like to respond.
5. Respond To Yourself With Compassion: Kristen Neff, who is a leading author and researcher on self-compassion has found that when caregivers (yes, that is you, mom!) pour themselves out for others without being kind and supportive towards themselves, they eventually burn out.
After a decade of research, Neff has found that held-compassion is associated with good mental health, protects caregivers from compassion fatigue and increases satisfaction in the caregiving role.
She defines self-compassion as having 3 main components; self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to the tendency to be caring and understanding with oneself rather than being harshly critical or judgmental. Common humanity involves recognizing that all humans are imperfect, fail and make mistakes. Mindfulness involves being present in the moment with an awareness of ones painful feelings without ignoring them or holding on to tightly to them.
Here is a self-compassion exercise from the book Self-Compassion for Parents by Susan Pollack that you can try:
-Notice your experience (This is really, really hard. I feel so overwhelmed) -Validate your feeling; like how you would talk to a good friend (ugh! Moments like this completely suck! Parenting is full of these tough moments. Other moms definitely feel this way too! I am not alone experiencing this; this is part of parenting.) -Add words of kindness (You’ve got this! You can get through this. Let me be kind to myself today.) -Try putting your hand on your heart and notice the warmth and gentle pressure.
There are going to be days that you blow it! Have some compassion for yourself. Instead of feeling forever horrible and mentally beating yourself up for the rest of the day, see it as an opportunity to reset.
Ask yourself what you need in that moment to get back on track.
Apologize sincerely to your kids.
Motherhood will present you with the ‘opportunity’ again and again to learn to deal more skillfully with your emotions. Many moms have never been taught to handle their feelings effectively. As you learn to experience sadness, anxiety, anger and other emotions in new ways, you can also share this learning with your kids to better equip them.
If you’ve been struggling with stress, anger or anxiety on your own and don’t feel like you’ve been making progress, counselling can be a very helpful part of the puzzle. I invite you to reach out for a free 15 minute consultation to see if we’d be a good fit to work together, to help you learn to navigate your emotions more effectively.
How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t With Your Kids by Carla Naumburg (*has a lot of ‘salty’ language, but is a great book!)
You would think that kids who had been shuttled around all year to various programs and activities and had been stuck mainly indoors doing school work for the last 9 months would love some downtime. But, no.
My kids beg to play video games, watch TV, get on their siblings nerves, pick fights and tattle on each other and plead to go to Chicken Little for ice cream. Daily.
This year, because your kids have already been cooped up at home for the past 4 months, your patience is worn thin. Some days it feels as though your teetering on the edge of sanity, trying not to lose your s*&t!
Life as a Mom is Tough
It’s only 8 am and already you’ve been up for hours because someone peed the bed in the early hours of the morning and you couldn’t fall back to sleep.
You haven’t had your morning coffee yet because someone else is melting down over their unicorn t-shirt being in the wash. To make matters worse, you’ve run out of milk for your cereal.
You had hoped to get some exercise in this morning, but your plans have been derailed. You are tired and keeping it together when you’ve got a million balls to juggle can feel practically impossible.
Mom stress is real!
The Impact of Mom Stress
You might be familiar with the horrible feeling that floods your body in moments of high stress; like when your kids are melting down and you’re trying to get them out the door.
Maybe you hear your voice change-my kids joke that they know that I am about to lose it when I start using proper grammar and big words as I internally struggle not to come unglued.
And, if you don’t catch yourself, words will come rushing out like toothpaste out of a tube; impossible to put back.
Mom meltdowns leave you feeling terrible about how you’ve handled the situation.
As crappy as the situation was, your behaviour has left you feeling much worse.
Why is it so hard to keep my cool when I’m stressed?
Dear frustrated and stressed mom, I want you to know that this reaction is not because you are a terrible person. Or because you are any more flawed than the rest of us.
Making sense of this reaction by understanding how your brain and body work can help you to stop beating yourself up (you are human, after all) and have hope that you can learn to handle things in new ways.
Here is a brief explanation; Our brains and nervous systems respond with a stress response which is sometimes called fight/flight/freeze when we are experiencing a ‘threat’.
You might be surprised to learn that our brains don’t have a separate pathway to handle the emotional ‘threat’ of mom chaos compared to the physical ‘threat’ of a car speeding towards you.
Either way, when your nervous system becomes aware, consciously or unconsciously, that something bad is going down, or at least might be, your amygdala sends a signal that activates your sympathetic nervous system and your body gets flooded with adrenaline and cortisol.
Physiologically, you are primed to dart out of the way of that speeding car, but the reality is you need to keep your cool while you wipe up a full glass of milk that has been spilled all over the table and is dripping down onto the floor, when you are already 5 minutes late to get out the door.
Now, your body that was already experiencing a stress response because you were running late, has just gotten all jacked up again with a fresh flood of stress hormones after the milk spilled.
All that energy has to go somewhere…..and if you don’t get a hold of yourself so you just might come unhinged.
How do I Stop Losing It so Often?
One of the best ways to have a chance at getting a grip on yourself in those chaotic scenes, is to start recognizing your triggers and addressing them pro-actively.
What are triggers?
Carla Naumburg, a clinical social worker and author of one of my new favourite books How to Stop Losing Your s*&it with Your Kids defines triggers as “anything that makes it more likely that you’re going to lose your shit with your kids.” These can include stress, insecurities, big feelings, or distractions.
She states that some of the most common triggers are;
-Chronic exhaustion -Anxiety -Multitasking -Smartphones and social media -Major life changes
Identifying and figuring out how to deal with your triggers is critical to getting a hold of yourself, so that you don’t flip out on your kids.
I challenge you this week to make a list of your triggers and what you can do to address each one.
I’ll share some of mine…..
A messy house – how can families with kids have a tidy house? It’s never going to happen! Remind myself to take a deep breath, ask for help from the kids and chill out if a cushion is out of place or there’s socks on the floor.
Lack of quiet time – I try to have a nice hot bubble bath or even a long hot shower every day with no kids around and if I’m really lucky even take a book to read in the bath! Finding quiet time even 5 minutes alone a day is key to sanity.
An overbooked life – Just say no! If I have too much going on, I try to reprioritize and let things go.
Mealtimes – meal planning at the start of every week for the week.
Noise – all houses with kids must be noisy, right? If the kids reach the point that they are getting louder than I can manage, go do ‘quiet activities’ with them or go outside with them.
Disorganization- write things down, keep a diary or daily journal so I know when and where I need to be. Leave extra time before and after because kids can drag their feet and take an age to do anything.
Here is a journaling page for you to help you start looking at your mom stress by giving you a place to record some of your triggers and possible solutions.
Come back for part two of this blog series and I’ll give you some practical, in-the-moment things you can do to get a grip when you are about to lose it.
After all, there is no way to avoid the nervous system response to a ‘threat’, but you can learn to handle it differently.
Experiencing the death of a loved one is the hardest thing we can go through in this life. What can make grieving even more challenging is the feeling that we’re somehow doing it wrong.
But grieving is a unique experience and there is truly no “right” way to do it. Author Anne Morrow Lindberg put it best when she said, “… suffering … no matter how multiplied, is always individual.”
While there is no one right way to grieve the loss of a loved one, there are some guidelines that will help you heal.
You Will Survive the Loss
The pain of a loved one’s death is so great that we often feel it may cause our own death. But it’s important to remember that emotions, no matter how big, cannot harm you.
In fact, not feeling emotions and bottling them up can often make the situation, and sometimes our health, much worse. Avoiding the pain of loss tends to stunt our grieving and we end up taking our pain with us into our future.
Understand the Ebb and Flow of Grief
Grieving is a process with no stillness. There is always movement; an ebb and flow to our grief. After a few weeks, you may have a day when you feel like you can finally catch your breath; where you notice how pretty a sunny day is, and when you dog can make you laugh again. And then the very next day, you feel that old, familiar darkness and despair slide under your skin.
This is natural, and it’s important for you to pay attention to these rhythms of grief. The more you become aware of the ebb and flow of your personal journey, the more you’ll believe that someday there will be more good days than bad.
Practice Self Care
It’s important during this time that you care for yourself as you would a dear friend. Make sure that you get enough rest and try and eat well, even when eating seems like the last thing you want to do. Keeping up your strength is important during this time.
Try and get fresh air and move your body. This will help alleviate the stress and tension you have been feeling. And above all, be kind to yourself mentally and emotionally. Don’t chide yourself for crying in the bathroom on your lunch break. You would never do that to a dear friend, would you? Just let yourself feel your feelings when they come and be gentle with yourself.
The people who love you will want to help you during the weeks and months that follow the loss. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help and support. If you need someone to watch the baby so you can go out for a much-needed run, ask. If your spouse was always the one to handle repairs around the house, ask a family member to come over and help.
It’s also a good idea to seek the guidance of a therapist who can help you work through your emotions and develop coping skills.
If you or a loved one is reeling from a personal loss and is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me. I’d be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.
It’s been a shocking week in Nova Scotia.The unexplainable actions that left so much devastation have been discussed in nearly every therapy session I’ve had.
It seems that the old adage about ‘6 degrees of separation’ doesn’t hold up for Nova Scotians.As close knit, connected Maritimers, it feels like we have all been touched in some way.
When we are upset and grieving, people often try to help by giving advice or making comments, with the best of intentions, but they can inadvertently cause much more pain.
Because there are so many misperceptions about grief and the grief process, here are some things I want you to know.
1. Feel your emotions don’t try to forget the pain.
Because the grieving process can be so painful many people (and well meaning friends) think that the best thing to do is to fix or forget the pain. This is actually not the best way to deal with grief.
Using excessive busyness, over eating, shopping, binge watching television or drinking/drug use or any other means to distract, numb, avoidor minimize your feelings can become unhelpful in the long run.
In fact, over using these strategies to deal with your emotions can potentially lead you into painful and destructive situations.
Truth is, this loss you have experienced is a part of your story.While it will most certainly become less raw and painful over time, you will never forget that this has happened to you. This experience will shape you and change you.No matter what, you cannot make what you have gone through disappear from your memory.
2.Find a safe community of people to support you
One of the easiest ways to gather people around you is to be brave enough to tell people what you need and also to articulate what is helpful(and not!) for you.
It’s been my experience that people are well-meaning, but don’t intuitively know what to do.
Make a list of thingsyou need done (school pick-ups, babysitting, meals, etc.) so that when people ask how they can help, you have some ready suggestions.
If you need a friend to be a listening ear (rather than an advice giver and fixer) it can be helpful to share this with your friend so that she knows how best to support you.
3.There is no ‘right’ way to grieve
In the 1990s, while at university, I had my first personal experience of loss.I was simultaneously taking undergraduate psychology courses and learned very well-known five stages of grief, as postulated by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying.
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance: these are the five stages of grief, so well-known it’s now engrained in pop culture.
I was surprised that my own experience of grief did not follow this model, since I was distinctly left with the impression from my textbooks, that there should be some sort of progression to my deep sadness.
At the time of the book’s publication, very little instruction was given in medical school on the subject of death and dying, which was what motivated Kübler-Ross to share her findings in her work with terminally ill patients.
Before her death in 2004, Kübler-Ross noted in her book On Grief and Grieving that the five stages were not meant to be a linear and predictable progression of grief, and that she regretted that the stages had been misinterpreted.
Coinciding with Kübler-Ross’ own remarks on the five stages, there appears to be no evidence that people go through any or all of these stages, or in any particular order. As unique as is each individual and their relationships, so too is their experience with the grieving process.
There is a strange perception in our culture that we need to get over our loss and that things that remind us of our loss are bad. It’s as though somehow need to stop noticing that our lives have been altered and the sooner we “get over it”, the better.
So many of the grieving people I work with are under the impression that they need to “move on” from their loss and that the sign that they talk less about their loved one and that they appear less visibly upset.
Tears actually help us to release stress hormones, soothe our emotions and feel a lift in our mood, thanks to the production of oxytocin that accompanies them.
Unfortunately, many people who are grieving, find themselves facing “the elephant in the room”.Friends, family and co-workers seem to be unsure how to talk to you all of a sudden!Many seem afraid to mention anything remotely related to your loss, let alone address it directly.
Let me encourage you to find someone with whom you can share these stories.If there is no one in your circle, experiment with journalling or drawing or writing your story as a means of remembering.
Although grief has no particular stages, timeline or ending, it doesn’t mean that we will grieve in the same way forever. The people that we love and lose are forever engrained in our hearts and minds.
Over time, the indescribable sorrow of grief morphs into a sort of bittersweet gratitude: still sad that we lost our loved one, but happy and grateful for the gift of sharing our life and time with them.
If you are struggling with grief and need support and guidance, don ‘t hesitate to reach out. I offer free 15 minute consultation appointments so we can make sure we’ll be a good fit. All of my appointments are being done online through a secure video platform or by phone for people who live anywhere in Nova Scotia.